There are Belgian waffles and then there are Belgian waffles. The “Belgian” waffles we know and love are, in fact, American — an invention of the late 1950s, which were popularized during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. The Belgian-American waffle, like other hyphenated groups, sits firmly on U.S. soil, but with a firm nod towards his past origin and history.
Belgium is famous for its waffles. But in Belgium, the most popular waffle is not the version we know (commonly referred to as the Brussels waffle), with the squared sides, light batter, and deep pockets. No, the best and most popular waffle is the heralded Liège waffle, with its caramelized colors, rounded edges, and small, hand-held beauty. It is absolutely delicious and best eaten piping hot from a street stand, unadulterated by any add-ons. Unlike the Brussels counterpart, the strawberries, syrup, and whipped cream only detract from its innate flavor.
I first had a Liège waffle in Paris, famished after a long walk to the Musee d’Orsay. It was, at least at that moment, a fitting introduction to the art awaiting. My next waffle would be several years later, in Cincinnati, at Findlay Market, home of Taste of Belgium. The Belgian owner, rather than fight the conventional naming issue, simply referred to his classic waffles as an “authentic Belgian waffle.” In Cincinnati, the going rate for these sweet confection was $3.75 or $12.00 for a four-pack.
Fortunately, there are recipes out there. The critical ingredients here are Pearl sugar (available here and here),a little patience, and a hot iron. But with any luck, you’ll have a true Belgian waffle — the kind to make any Belgian proud.
Liège Waffles (Les Gaufres de Liège)
Recipe heavily adapted from the Liege Waffle Recipe Blog
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
DOWN TIME: Overnight plus additional time
COOK TIME: 10 minutes
YIELD: 12 Waffles
WHAT TO GRAB:
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 package dry instant yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons low-fat milk
2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 large room temperature egg, lightly beaten
1 heaping tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
6 tablespoons softened butter (can be halved, just add
equivalent in milk)
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup Belgian Pearl Sugar
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup warm water (105-115° F), the yeast, and granulated sugar. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture doesn’t foam, you’ll have to discard it and start over with new yeast).
2. In a separate bowl, add the flour, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla.
3. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and add the yeast. Mix until just combined. Add two tablespoons milk (more if the mixture is too dry), honey, beaten egg, and butter until just combined.
4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and fold until the ball is just barely sticky.
5. Place the dough into a large bowl and sprinkle lightly with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for three to four hours. This step is crucial for developing the flavor.
6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to slow the yeast respiration.
7. Stir the dough down and place on a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape into large rectangle, then fold over on itself (by thirds – like a letter) so that you have a square of dough. Wrap it in the plastic, and refrigerate overnight.
8. The next day, place the cold dough (it will be quite firm) in a large bowl and add all of the pearl sugar to a bowl. It will seem like a lot of sugar – but trust me. By hand, work the sugar into the dough. If you need to, tear the dough into a few smaller pieces and work the sugar into the smaller pieces of dough separately. Once mixed, divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Round the pieces into balls about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.
9. Place the balls on a piece of plastic wrap, and lightly cover with a second piece of plastic wrap. Let rise for one more hour (I know; the wait is excruciating).
10. Heat your waffle iron. Cook the dough at a high temperature until the sugar is caramelized and the waffles are a beautiful brown color.
11. Serve immediately!
*You can freeze any leftovers (ha, leftovers!), and then revive them in the toaster. A step-up from the frozen eggo waffles!